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Best of 2016: #10, D-League Plots Future

NBA D-League

We end 2016 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Arena Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #10: the continuing growth of the NBA D-League.

The year 2016 could be remembered as a turning point for the NBA Development League. Increased interest from NBA franchises, ownership changes, and relocations set the D-League up for a future that could include expansion.

This year, it seemed that stories on Arena Digest were increasingly focused on the happenings within the D-League. The Milwaukee Bucks have made an aggressive push to join the circuit, and have been considering arena pitches from three Wisconsin cities—Oshkosh, Racine, and Sheboygan.

Should the Bucks’ plan come to fruition, they will be the latest team to join in the trend of placing a D-League franchise close to their home base. The Orlando Magic recently announced their intention to purchase the Erie BayHawks—their affiliate in the D-League—and move them to Lakeland, FL for the 2017-18 season.

In a similar vein, the Sacramento Kings increased their involvement in the D-League by purchasing the controlling interest in the Reno Bighorns. When the transaction was announced in October, the Kings said that they were planning to keep the Bighorns in Reno, but openly discussed the possibility of having the team play select games in Sacramento in the future.

There was also movement on the expansion front. In November, the Atlanta Hawks announced plans to own an expansion entry in the league that would play in nearby College Park. That team will join the league for the 2019-20 season, when College Park is slated to open its new arena.

As we noted at the time that the Hawks’ intentions were announced, these developments are linked in how they reflect changing times for the D-League:

The potential is there for more teams to join the Hawks in the D-League. The Milwaukee Bucks have been mulling arena proposals in three Wisconsin cities, while the Denver Nuggets were recently reported to be considering the addition of a franchise in Omaha. That, combined with moves such as the Sacramento Kings’ recent purchase of the Reno Bighorns, shows provides signs of the NBA’s effort to grow the D-League.

These developments occurred in the same year that saw the D-League grow by three teams. Early this year, the league announced new teams in the Greensboro Swarm, Windy City Bulls, and the Long Island Nets. That trio of clubs has already debuted, and each has the advantage of a regional affiliate, with the Bulls and Nets taking the names of their parent clubs and the Swarm being a development team of the Charlotte Hornets.

For the 2016-17 season, the D-League features 22 teams. In the very near future, as more NBA teams latch on to the idea of expanding their organizations with a development team, that number could only grow.

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